Chinese doctors at the First Affiliated Hospital of Henan University of Science and Technology in Luoyang, Henan Province, were puzzled by a 12-year-old girl who was mysteriously losing her hair and dropping weight at an alarming rate. After conducting an investigation into the girl’s condition, surgeons removed a 1-pound hairball that was obstructing 70 percent of her stomach.

"I've seen her put hair in her mouth, but I thought she was just playing and didn't think much about it," the young girls’ mother told Global Times.

The mother of Qian Qian, the alias given for the 12-year-old girl, decided to seek medical attention after discovering a lump in her daughter's stomach two weeks earlier. A subsequent CT scan performed by doctors at the university revealed a foot-long hairball that was taking up around 70 percent of the room in her stomach. The girl was diagnosed with pica, an unusual eating pattern in which the patient consumes non-food items such as dirt, clay, ice, pain, and hair.  

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the number of hospitalizations related to pica jumped by 93 percent between 1999 and 2009. This type of eating disorder is primarily seen in children. Ten to 32 percent of children around the ages of 1 and 6 start to exhibit pica-like behaviors. Being diagnosed with pica can leave the patient susceptible to other psychological disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, and alcohol use.

"The mass of hair was shaped like her stomach and is solid," Chen Ye, deputy director of  the gastrointestinal tumor surgery department at the hospital told Global Times. Ye asked that all parents seek medical attention if their child begins to show similar symptoms. Children with pica also tend to show signs of trichotillomania, a behavior characterized by hair-pulling. When the child begins to swallow the hair they are said to be suffering from trichophagia, which can turn fatal if the trichobezoar — formation of the hairball — becomes too large.